Thank you, Guidestar, for hearing our concerns

It’s been a very interesting week.

My post on Tuesday, “My worst nightmare is now true, sloppy ratings ratings of nonprofit effectiveness in Hatii,” and a storm of Tweets generated quite a bit of attention.

As Tuesday’s post explains, after my first critique, Guidestar changed their hastily constructed home page listing  Top Ten Relief Organizations Working in Haiti, which I strongly debated the evidence for, to a somewhat more accurate Most Reviewed Relief Organizations in Haiti.

After a long conversation this afternoon with Debra Snider, Guidestar’s VP of Communications and Administration, and Shari Ilsen, Director of Marketing and Outreach at GreatNonprofits, Guidestar made the laudable decision to drop the listing altogether.

Now when you land on Guidestar’s homepage and scroll down, you’ll see Disaster Action Center and encouragement to post a review if you have firsthand experience with an organization working in Haiti. A link takes you to the site of GreatNonprofits.

Why is this so much better?

  • Guidestar is no longer implying that simply because 10 organizations received more reviews than 25 others that the reviewed organizations are somehow more worthy of your giving. (My point: Once they call out a top list, even if they don’t say it directly, the donor infers that somehow this list is more special than the rest).
  • Dropping   “received the most reviews” eliminated the task of keeping that list revolving and accurate. (It wasn’t.)
  • As Guidestar’s intent was to help increase the number of reviews received by GreatNonprofits, this new configuration achieves the same goal without the baggage of implied ratings. I’d also suggest that it is clearer and probably will be more effective at accomplishing that goal.
  • Guidestar can still offer the longer informational list they compiled of organizations that are working on relief and recovery (or longer term development) in Haiti, without trying to assess their effectiveness. This doesn’t compromise Guidestar’s valued credibility and keeps up what Guidestar is best known for — providing us with credible information on organizations and educating us about how we can make our own informed giving decisions.

Do I still have concerns about Amazon style rating systems? Absolutely. But we can talk about that at another time.

Thank you, Guidestar (and Debra), for hearing my concerns — which aren’t just my concerns, but include a rising tide of very concerned individuals with deep reservations about intermediary rating systems of nonprofit effectiveness.

P.S. You can also read a quick summary of the controversy in today’s Give and Take, the Chronicle of Philanthropy‘s roundup of blogs about the nonprofit world.

4 responses to Thank you, Guidestar, for hearing our concerns

  1. Donald Griesmann

    Gayle, congratulations and deep appreciation for taking the Guidestar listing head on. This rush to rate charities by national nonprofits is a travesty, a lie about those not listed and an insult to the giving public. They seem to be taking on some of the bad characteristics of Charity Navigator, not a good role model in my belief. Charity Navigator unfortunately has the ear of CNN when it comes to listing charities for donors to provide support. Guidestar is part of the elite group that believes it can develop standards to measure most if not all nonprofits. They should stay out of the ranking busines until they finish that project – if ever. You did a great job for the sector. Don.

    • Gayle Gifford Post Author

      Thank you, Don. It has been very heartening to know that so many of my esteemed colleagues also have great reservations about these rating systems. I’ve been hearing from many of you this past week.
      I do think that Ken Berger at CharityNavigator has heard the critique of their current configuration. His answer to that is to begin developing rankings based on transparency and effectiveness. The effectiveness part, as we all know, is extraordinarily complicated and carries even larger philosophical questions along with it. Those of us in the field who can speak for our own experiences in the sector need to make sure our voices are just as loud as the intermediaries.
      If anything, it seems that what was just a lot of independent growling has the potential to turn into a strong roar. Stay tuned.

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